Maintenance

|  June 03, 2010 |

Information flows in mixed fleet applications using new AEMP telematics standards

 

 

If you’ve stayed away from telematics* in the past because of the complexity, good news is coming. Starting in October, an industry-wide standard will take effect that makes it possible to collect mixed fleet data from multiple OEMs and download it into almost any single fleet management program of your choosing.

The new standard was created by a committee put together by the Association of Equipment Management Professionals. Along with AEMP’s people, the committee included Caterpillar, Deere, Volvo Construction Equipment, Komatsu America and software developers McFadyen & Associates.

To find out more about the new standard and what it means for contractors and heavy equipment fleet managers, we talked with Pat Crail, the fleet information manager for The John R. Jurgensen Companies, a heavy-highway contractor and aggregate and asphalt producer in the greater Cincinnati area. Crail served as the AEMP’s point person during the development of the new standard. But before that he came up through the ranks as a diesel mechanic, ended up going to night school to get a bachelor’s degree in business administration and has just finished his MBA.

“Half my job is to act as a translator between the company’s IT people and the fleet management team,” Crail says. “The other half is to track the metrics in our fleet and do the financial analysis, life cycle costs and that sort of thing.”

 

The problem

Most of the major manufacturers today offer telematics devices installed in the factory on their larger lines of equipment. Many offer free data subscriptions for the first few years.

“But very few people are doing anything with it,” Crail says. “They’re going out to the website and poking around and looking a little bit. But until they can get that data to coexist with their financial data and accounting data and start driving costing decisions – until their Komatsu, Deere, and Cat data can coexist so they can look at all the loaders and all the excavators – it’s very limited in it’s ability to provide them with any actionable information.”

A 2008 study by the AEMP showed that less than half the contractor respondents who had telematics systems were accessing the information from OEM websites, and only 6.8 percent of them were integrating the information into their fleet management programs. The study showed that three areas were giving fleet managers heartburn: emissions, safety and telematics; but telematics was at the top of the list, the burning issue in terms of importance, says Stan Orr, AEMP’s executive director.

 

Current options

If you’re operating a mixed fleet you have several options when it comes to using a telematics system, Crail says. “You can go to each manufacturer’s or telematics provider’s website and view the information about your fleet. And in some cases you can download that information into an Excel file or something.” But if you can’t download it into your own fleet management program you have to manually copy it. “Telematics promised to give us that information instantaneously and accurately, but it’s kind of trapped out there on each provider’s website,” he says.

The second option is to work with your telematics provider to develop a data feed solution so you can import the data that’s available on their website. “Typically that requires a pretty hefty IT investment and you have to repeat that process with a separate application for each brand of machine or telematics provider,” Crail says.

“The third solution is to replace all the OEM telematics devices that come on the machines from the factory with third-party telematics systems deployed fleet wide. “But that’s probably the most expensive of all the options,” Crail says.

 

The solution

In agreeing to adopt the new telematics standard, all participating manufacturers will program their basic machine data to use the same XML software codes agreed upon by the AEMP committee. Everybody – including machine manufacturers, electronics manufacturers and third-party providers will be on the same sheet of music. The new standard does not incorporate programming language for the more complex data functions (temps, pressures and such) but it does cover the most important data for basic fleet management including:

• cumulative operating hours (for off-road equipment) or

• cumulative miles traveled (for vehicles)

• cumulative fuel burned

• current location

“What it means is that with a fairly minimal IT investment, end users will be able to use telematics data to automatically import basic information into their existing fleet management applications,” Crail says. “They’ll be able to use that data to make their existing fleet reports more accurate and timely.” No more manual entry and no more hunting through multiple websites.

 

Common language

“We chose the XML format because it’s simple and powerful and a common format most programmers are familiar with it,” Crail says. Contractors will still need to hire a software developer or have their IT people write a simple API (applications programming interface) that goes out to each OEM’s server and retrieves the data and imports it into the contractor’s fleet management software. But that’s fairly easily done, he says.

If you have IT personnel, it shouldn’t take them more than a day or two to write an API. If not, software developers can do the same thing for a few thousand dollars. “It’s not a huge undertaking but it does need to be specific to the contractor’s fleet management software,” he says.

Once you’ve got your fleet management programs set up it’s just a matter of going to the OEMs’ websites, registering your machines and getting a login and password. Then your computers will automatically reach out to the OEMs’ websites, grab all your data and populate your database with current information. The machines talk to other machines, eliminating the possibility of human error.

“Anybody who is operating a fleet today is using some kind of fleet management software,” Crail says. But without a telematics system the data is entered manually – operators and mechanics fill out paper forms that are then typed into a computer spreadsheet.

“It’s not uncommon for a machine to pop up on our maintenance schedule for an oil change or a PM inspection because somebody reported a bad hour meter reading or somebody wrote it down wrong,” Crail says. “And then you’ve got a mechanic who drives a service truck for an hour and a half to a machine that’s not really due for a PM. There are tens of thousands of dollars wasted every year from bad hour meter readings.”

 

Connecting with providers

Although the XML software codes are the same, each provider is handling the requirements for signing up and retrieving the information a bit differently, Crail says. Some are going to have an 800 number you call or a website you register with. Others have said they want their customers working through their dealers.

The cost to register your fleet and access the data will also be left up to the providers, although many OEMs already provide telematics hardware and web subscriptions free for a certain number of years with the purchase of new equipment.

 

Beyond the basics

The AEMP standard and the data it provides (fuel, hours or miles and location) isn’t intended to replace the OEM web applications or their rich data feeds, Crail says. Those are still available, but specific to each OEM or third party provider.

“The standard is designed to get basic fleet level information,” Crail says. “That drives the fleet level reporting we do on a periodic basis – the daily, weekly, monthly and annual reports we run to manage our fleets – reports that tell us what our utilization is, how our dozers are doing on hours, what our cost per hour is, and what machines are due for service and that kind of thing.”

“But if there is something going on with one machine or I want to look at the machine more closely, then that provider’s web portal is a very powerful tool to do that,” Crail says. “When I have a specific machine that I want to hone in on I can go to the telematics provider’s website and I can look at pressures and temperatures and fault code history and specific operation patterns. That’s a unit level inquiry, as opposed to a fleet level.”

 

A stepping stone

With the AEMP standard fleet managers can get their feet wet, Crail says. “Hopefully this will be a stepping stone to more extensive telematics integration and they can start to quantify their return on investment from the greater data integrity. That helps them to build the business case to go out and start adopting telematics on a broader and deeper scale. It’s a first step into the telematics world for a lot of fleets.”

Over time Crail says the committee will continue to look at ways to standardize more than just the location, fuel, and hours or miles data. Of particular interest is finding a way to standardize information on idle time, which could simplify providing such information to air quality agencies. The official title is the AEMP Telematics Data Standard version 1.0. But there will eventually be a version 1.1 or 2.0, Crail says, to incorporate more data.

“We hope it can grow into something that provides the bulk of those automatic mass data downloads people need to take the human interaction out of it and let fleet managers concentrate on running the fleet, not getting their hands on the information in the first place,” Crail says. EW

 

ACTION ITEM

Interested? Want to learn more? The AEMP will be conducting workshops on the new telematics standard at its annual meeting this fall. The meeting will be held in Nashville, Tennessee, October 26-27. The AEMP will also be holding webinars for contractors and fleet managers who can’t travel on those dates. For more information go to www.aemp.org.

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